If I was asked for that ONE THING could improve your art work, aside from developing good drawing skills, I would say get your ‘tonal values’ correct.
Read on to see what I mean…
Colour may move us at first instance but it is the range of darks and lights, the ‘tonal values’ that create the powerful design which is the backbone of each art work.
Values are the lightness or darkness of your hues, on a scale from Dark 0 or 1- Light 9
This is called the ‘Value scale’
Everything you see can be drawn as a range of shapes in corresponding, relative, tonal values.
This is one of the first lessons I teach in my weekly lessons as I know it will become the most valuable.
Still Unconvinced? Read on for examples of how to use it in your artwork….
You want to capture a sense of light and atmosphere?
Tonal values recreate the light in the picture, or rather the ‘contrast’ between the high and low tonal values: imagine a shaft of sunlight in a narrow back street the light sparkling against the dark and now imagine this scene with the shaft of light in the open street with no dark foil to emphasise it.
Plein Air Painting
The time of day, the mood and atmosphere are very important to set the mood in plein air painting. Artistic license is given to you to choose the ‘key’ of the painting in order to set the mood.
The ‘key’ of your painting is determined by your range of tonal values you choose to paint with. This painting is keyed to start on a mid-grey toned base, so that the lights really sparkle in contrast against it
NB I will talk about key in more detail in another bog.
You want Free and unfussy painting without too much detail; sculpt with a broad brush using tonal values
Tonal values sculpt the 3 dimensional images: we don’t need to outline every feature in a portrait; far better to highlight the brow of the nose which catches the light and fades the side of the nose into the surrounding darkness.
You struggle with getting the ‘right’ colours?
Colours are easier to choose when you have a good tonal value design. You need a warm red, now select the warm red which is the correct tonal value when held against the cool blue shape which juts up against it.
Tonal range of skin colours from Cadmium Yellow, Ochre and Burnt Sienna, through to Burnt Umber and Payne’s grey
The secret to Dynamic Compositions:
The design of your composition is perceived by the eye easily as a pattern of dark and light shapes (notan)
Place these with consideration and you have a winning painting before the brush touches the page.
Tonal values used correctly can be placed through the composition to lead you though the scene: creating a sense of perspective. The focal point of the composition can be created by placing a dark shape sharply contrasted against a light, or vice versa.
You don’t want to paint every detail?
Good use of tonal values is the use of poetry instead of writing a report.
Tonal values are liberating: you can use almost any colours in your artwork if you have a solid tonal design.
Thank you for reading. Please do share your comments or questions with me.